March 2018: Change or Transformation?

Change or Transformation?

As a place of worship for nearly 1,000 years it seems only appropriate that we will finish the Pilgrim construction works at Gloucester Cathedral in time to celebrate Easter.

Regular readers will know that Advent and Christmas were the deadlines we were working to.  It would have been nice for any number of reasons to have the building works completed by now:  workload, sanity and the ability not to have to say Sorry ever again are the first three that spring to my mind!  Yet there’s something about the obvious signs of new life all around at this time – and in this season – which somehow feels right for Pilgrim.  We’ve not fundamentally “changed” the Cathedral – it’s still all about worship, music, education and welcome – but the investment of time, attention and resources which underpins Pilgrim is bringing our vision for a 21st century cathedral in the heart of the city to glorious, transformational life. 

Which is requiring some adjustment from everyone.  We have a comprehensive familiarisation and training programme so that staff and volunteers understand each new piece of kit – its purpose and how to use it.  We’ve taken on a part time member of staff to help co-ordinate this training programme to ensure we have the right people in the right place at the right time in a Cathedral version of “No one gets left behind”.  But however wonderful the new scheme is (and I really hope you find it astonishing, inspiring, welcoming and delightful) there’s no getting away from the fact that we now have things where we didn’t before.  Information Hubs,  a Welcome Area and Departure Point, a new Visitor Information Point, Lifts, Ramps, Draught Doors and a new Glass Lobby  all need to be factored in.  What do they mean for our routes of procession for worship?  For seating plans for events both large and small?  How do I clean them?  What happens if they break down?

For some colleagues there’s one more: What was wrong with what we had before?  Because we also no longer have some things which have been here so long, they literally were “part of the furniture”.  The old Edwardian draught lobby is the most obvious but we’re also getting rid of old CCTV kit and alarm panels, unneeded chairs and kneelers, dreadful old signage and inefficient (and rather ugly) lighting.  These things are familiar, and their use is part of the comfortable, everyday routine for many.  Getting used to new things is difficult, whether they make life easier or not.  Change can be hard, however much planning has gone into that process!

Except, some of our losses (the pillar and step which had blocked access for wheelchair users to the Lady Chapel are the obvious ones) are actually gains.  Suddenly we are freed to think about bringing larger musical instruments into the space – or using the new sound system to ensure that the main Cathedral organ can be heard clearly everywhere within the Cathedral.  Or holding different kinds of events and activities in a space which was previously cold, gloomy and inaccessible for many.   The possibilities are a bit overwhelming actually and it may take us some time to realise the full potential on offer.

If I had to choose a few favourite parts of the scheme, I have three which make me happy every time I see or use them – but which for future Cathedral visitors will barely be noticeable.  Firstly we’ve replaced an old and tatty wooden ramp covered in carpet with some bold but elegant stones which make a permanent ramp into the Quire: access for all without any kind of song and dance.  Then we’ve removed the ugly MDF safety panels which ran through all 72 arches at Triforium level and replaced them with toughened glass which reveals the shape of the building at the same time as it catches the reflections of the stained glass.  Finally, the west end of Gloucester Cathedral has been transformed: we have a new raised platform which simultaneously offers level access and sweeping steps which connect the formerly separate Upper and Lower College Greens.  Using the same stone as the main Cathedral has proved a stroke of genius – these steps are the most beautiful and fitting setting for this building and make it impossible to imagine the area as the car park it used to be.

As we settle in with our new version of Gloucester Cathedral, more and more of it will become comfortable and familiar.  We will get used to it. 

But be under no illusion, it will ultimately also transform us.


Project Pilgrim construction will be finished by Easter.  Please do come to the Cathedral from Monday 2 April to see the transformation for yourself.

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